Spending The Entire Day Waiting

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Yesterday I spent the entire day at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston waiting for assistance at the pharmacy. When I say all day what I really mean is I was in line for mandatory valet parking at 7:04 am, by line I mean there were already 64 vehicles ahead of me, for a service which doesn’t even start until 7:30 am. This is after a 55 minute drive from my house. But, before I begin my monologue about my personal frustrations with the VA Medical wait times or my personal complaints, my experience is minor compared to most others trying to get more critical treatment. In no way am I saying I have bigger problems, just I have my own problems. Regardless of what a person’s reason for visiting a VA Medical center, things should happen in a more timely manner than what it does currently.

My reason, and I had only one reason, for visiting the VA Medical center was a very clear and simple mission, to find out who and why my insulin changed. I would waste time explaining the significance to everyone but only a diabetic and doctors (most) would understand. Let’s just say we don’t change insulin for no reason at a whim. What started this quest was simple, Friday I got my new 30 day supply of insulin which was the wrong “brand” and the wrong dose. Names change so I did a little research and found what they sent me was wrong altogether. I called the pharmacy, and the short version is, I was told I must be mistaken and if a mistake was made it was because I ordered refills for the wrong insulin. Really? I’m that fucking stupid? I referred to my Rx # and so forth directly from the myhealth website and I was again told the mistake was all me. After hanging up I contacted my PCP in Conroe, spoke with her nurse, and was assured nothing had changed in my prescription details. Well, at that point in the day it way too late to drive into the VA so I made plans for Monday morning. Unfortunately those plans got scrapped and I was delayed until Tuesday. For your curiosity purposes I have included a screen capture from today to illustrate how vets can use this website to order and track prescriptions and yes this is my own personal list.

After driving, after waiting for mandatory valet parking, and after getting my number at the pharmacy, I sat there prepared to have a discussion with the pharmacist. I had my last vile, the vile they sent me, and the printed version of what you see below. So, I waited. after 2 1/2 hours my number came up so I got in line to wait another 20 minutes. Finally, when it was my turn to speak with a pharmacy technician, I was told that he could not help me with my problems and that I would need to take a different number so I could be consulted by the pharmacist. WTF? Again, I sat and waited in the sparsely populated waiting room of the pharmacy. Now, we are in lunch time so the slowness begins creeping to an almost halt. I’m hungry, but not hungry enough to leave and lose my place in line. Good thing I had brought a baggie full of spicy roasted almonds for a snack. Somewhere around 2:30 pm I was again alerted my number was up and got back in the line to wait behind the others whose numbers were called. Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel appears, I’m next. I was so close I could taste it.

The pharmacist very nicely asked what my problems were and how could he assist me. After explaining it all again to him he looked at me and told me any and all changes had to come directly from my PCP. Really? What changes did she make which changed not only my insulin but almost triples my dose? Of course, there ate no changes on record. The he pulled the “you must have ordered the wrong insulin when you did your refill request” bullshit. How in the hell can I do that? I have one fucking choice and that is what in the fuck I clicked. Here is the real kick in the balls, he tells me regardless of anything that is said that the current 30 day supply of insulin has already been verified, processed, and shipped which means he can not refill any more until July and if changes through my PCP happen then those will need to happen prior to that date. WTF are you smoking? If I am in need of this insulin immediately then I need to purchase it on my own. If I thought I would look good in prisoner orange I would have just ended his smart ass right then and there. FUCK I hate this fucking place!

And, by the way, one can not simply go to a civilian pharmacy and get insulin without a fucking prescription. I can, however, go on line and order it from a pharmacudicals supply in Canada with no prescription for a mere $260.10 plus express shipping. Yea, like that’s gonna fucking happen. Who knows what the fuck would be in that vile. As a result, my civilian PCP was nice enough to see me this morning. That only cost me $167.30 but he did give me a prescription for the correct insulin and the correct dosage. Which was generous of him, probably since I have been a patient of his for the last 15 years. So I got lucky, this time. At the pharmacy I had to pay the self-pay cost of $208.08 but now I have what I need for the next thirty days. I also am able to get in to see my VA PCP at the end of June so things hopefully work out and get back on track, hopefully.

No, I do not think I can ever get them to admit this whole thing was their mistake. I have come to a conclusion in the short time of dealing with the medical portion of the VA, they have to not have a soul or something to work there. I wonder how in the fuck they sleep at night. I do know, it is because they operate with no conscience. But, to be fair, I base this opinion solely on the people I have encountered myself. However, I have met ex-VA doctors, nurses, and technicians who say that they did not agree with how things worked but their hands were always tied when trying to make a positive difference. I can’t say I know what every veteran is going through and I know my problems are simple compared to most because my are Rx related. I would hate to see the state of my “health & wellbeing” if my only option was the VA. I am deeply sorry our Veterans must endure such bullshit as a course of their own survival, they truly deserve better, they deserve the best that is offered, and maybe with their asses in the news now the VA will clean their act up. I know, I know, wishful thinking.

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Every Beginning Ends

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I was once told, for a reason I can’t remember, the every beginning is the result of another beginnings end. I don’t know why I am thinking of that today other than I realized that I prefer privatized healthcare over being a part of the VA healthcare system. Its almost like moving backwards instead of forwards when it comes down to my health concerns. I have, in my own personal opinion, two that give me the greatest concerns. Those being my knee and my diabetes. Care and or treatment for both have turned into an absolute clusterfuck if you were to ask me. If I want to talk to a dumbass fucktard I can go to Walmart, however, when discussing my health with a healthcare “professional” I do expect that you know more than me. So far, I am fully disappointed with most of what I have experienced with the VA healthcare system. Not to be confused with the VA who have accommodated me since day one all the way back in 1999 when it was decided that exiting the Air Force was in my best interest. A decision made for me but as I look back it was probably still the best decision because I wasn’t sure if what I did is what I wanted to be doing any longer anyway. Maybe I will get into that soon as it would seem I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting on my life here the last few months.

Now, one would think that one could trust the VA medical to do its part in ensuring that when they make changes in ones medications that they hold up their end of the deal and ship them out to you as promised in a timely manner. I suppose I am the dumbass for assuming that would be the case. In grand anticipation of the changes I seemed to overlook one thing, I way overestimated what I thought should be a timely manner. Why? On 25 March 2014 I saw a diabetic specialist who prescribed me a different insulin because the VA doesn’t offer the dial a unit pen version. I needed a refil so it go changed so I could accommodate the way they do business. Fair enough I guess. However, after ten days (the allotted wait time) I received all of my refils with the exception of a few, one that was back ordered (indefinitely), and two that were never ordered, my glucose test meter and my insulin. After inquiring and getting the cock and bullshit story I was reassured that it was now done. Oh, and by the way, we will go ahead and order the syringes you will be needing as well. I made this call on 09 April 2014. Yesterday, yes the 16th, I received my syringes, but nothing else. I called to inquire again and was told it was all mailed on the 14th so give it another 7-10 days before any concern can be given. Really? Good goddamn thing I got friends in low places (I.e. doctors) who made sure I received a loaded pen of my old insulin to carry me to the big switch event. I want to be done fucking around and being fucked around by the VA medical. I see now why they have a well deserved reputation of being a literal joke. But wait, there’s more.

Today I saw an orthopedic specialist for my knee. The same knee that has had eight surgeries on it and nobody wants to replace it with a shiny new one. As well, this doctor, in his best opinion, believes that there is nothing he can do to better the way it feels, moves, or functions. Do know how hard it is to explain to another human being what “pain” is to you? Now, try doing that same explanation to a doctor, now do that with a VA doctor. Do you know what the result is? There is no result. None. There are predetermined answers which much be given to downplay what one is feeling. So, I get to be made out to feel like shit because my knee, once again, is shredding to utter pieces. Yes, I did xrays and some other imaging about three weeks ago. Yes, he reviewed them in front of me, yes he cringed a little when he saw all the screws, bolts, and other artificial bullshit that showed up plain as the nose on your face. However, even though he commented that the hardware had shifted and I have a screw backing out that this fact has nothing to do with what “appears” to be my ACL ligament being ruptured yet again. Oh really? I tossed out my yellow bullshit flag and called for a time out why we reviewed his credentials. No diploma on the wall but he has a real cool badge. The long and short of it is that I was given a cortisone shot and a prescription for antiinflammatory medication which I should get in 7-10 business days. I won’t hold my breath. I got a better exam from my son who explained to me that if something hurt to do then just don’t do it. Well, shit, that solves everything, I will just stop walking and standing from this point forward. On a patient/doctor statisfication rating of 1-10 I give this a 1 with my middle finger being then one I choose to show how happy I am right this second. Oh, I get to go back in the end of July to see if I have improved at all. I can make a prediction on how that appointment will go, y’all probably can as well.

If this hasn’t been fun enough, I registered with the “my healthcare.VA.gov” website only to find out that to access any of my records I have to go to the main facility with a government form in hand to be verified in person with proof of I.d. so they known its me on-line. This is so much fun I couldnjustnshitnrazor blades in rejoice. I know, sounds like allot of whining, complaining, and bitching for no real reason. Well, if it helps y’all, in feel the reasons are pretty valid. For the first time in my life I imagined how good it would feel to choke the life out of someone giving me grief for no special reason. Is this karma sneaking up non me to let me know that it is finally time to be rewarded for all the years I have been an asshole? I should be careful who I ask that. Anyway, appearantly the adventure (my life) continues on yet for another day, whether I like it or not, I can be happy about that I suppose.

Onsen (温泉) In The Land Of The Rising Sun

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I have been asked numerous times to write about my experiences living in Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun. So, I thought I might start a new series here chronicling how things were while living in Misawa Japan. Yes, it was the United States Air Force that brought me to Japan, but I want to talk about living there and not so much working there. The easiest place for me to start this all off is to tell about certain traditions that I chose to be a part of while living in the local economy. We rented a house deep in the heart of farm country, nothing new for me since I grew up in southeast Texas. The great thing about the location of this house was straight out the back door and across the parking lot there was an onsen (温泉) (public hot bath). This was important because the bath tub in the house was the size of a postage stamp. We were informed of what exactly it was and the traditions around the onsen there locally by our realtor.

My (ex)wife decided that going to the onsen was not something she was going to take part in. My wife was never real keen being naked in front of other people, high school gym and sports classes proved that fact to me years before. Which is strange because she was quite the quiet exhibitionist when it was just her and I out in public places. She was a closet tease to say the very least. However, that is yet another story altogether. We had it explained to us that the onsen setting was not unlike group showers in American high schools or in public and private gyms. Fair enough, seems like the Japanese got the whole keeping clean thing under control because most local neighborhoods had an onsen or three. Not to mention the large resorts that were centered around the very ornate onsens inside them. We were lucky, we lived in billeting (on-base hotel) for close to two weeks because of the snowstorms that had blown through. This time allowed our belonging to meet us in Japan and gave us time to purchase the other furniture we needed. All we shipped were our clothes, a television, a vcr, towels and wash cloths, dishes, pots and pans, a hand-me-down couch, and my king-size water bed.

The day arrived where we took possession of our rental house. It was brand new, one of eight houses built-in this courtyard style block. It was a townhouse, like the rest, we all shared a common “drive” which all of the houses faced with a one car car-port to the side. We were the first people to ever live in the house since it was built. It had a layout we were familiar with which was way different from other houses we looked at. On that same day our belongings arrived and were hastily unpacked by 2 very fast men. Also, the other furniture and furnishings we purchased were also delivered and set up. After some unpacking we needed to go back to billeting to gather our belongings and check out. It never crossed my mind, looking back, to grab a quick shower after such a long day. When we got back to the house she was tired so she laid out on the couch for a nap. I looked in our bathroom for the bath tub, I wanted to soak my cold bones for a while. What did I find? Well, the entire bathroom was a shower basically, if that makes any sense, and in the corner there was a tub created out tile set around three feet into the floor. This “tub” measured 30 inches by 30 inches square. No way to lay out in that tub for sure, it wasn’t happening.

I needed to get cleaned up however, so I told my wife I was going next-door to check the onsen out. It was the 2nd week of January, the temp was about 3 degrees farenheit, the wind was blowing at around 40 mph, and there was close to 4 feet of snow on the ground. I grabbed my wallet, flip-flops, shave kit, my shoes, a towel, walked out back across the parking lot. I had no clue what to do and everything was in Japanese. We lived far enough from the base that they didn’t see too many Americans on purpose. Luckily, the women who was clearing the water and snow from the entrance “showed” me where to remove my shoes, place them in the cubicle, and put on my flip-flops. Then she pointed me in the direction of the lobby. In the lobby there were a multitude of vending machines that sold everything, and when I say everything I mean anything from food, drinks, toiletries, clothes, cars, a date, porn, and tokens to the hot bath of course. I was surprised, the token for the hot bath was the U.S. equivalent to about 65 cents. As soon as my token dropped I heard a grizzly grunt at me who was the man behind me holding his hand out pointing that I should put my token in it. So I did and he then led me the men’s side of the bath house.

It had a typical look to a locker room I guess. Benches to get undressed, sinks and mirrors, and toilet stalls as well. As I was getting undressed I wasn’t sure where to put my belongings so I had to look around like a pervert stalker to see what others were doing. Okay, it’s really simple, place all of it into what looks just like a laundry basket, and then place that into one of the cubicles. I found very fast that I had to get over my trust issues because nothing is secured or locked up. I grabbed my stuff out of my shaving kit and placed it in a small plastic container which I then took with me into the next area, following others as I was unsure of the “process”. Watch and learn right. The next room was the washing area. Reminded me of once when I was in 4H of the washing stations for the livestock. There were three double-sided concrete barriers which had numerous “stations” that included a mirror, a shower head, and the faucet. One sat down on a 6″ tall stool to bath. But watch out, I found out by being smacked in the leg, not to put any body part in the trough that ran at the base of the wall, which served as the drainage that led to a large grate down at the end. Who knew. I had picked a cozy spot right in the middle. I found out later that the desired spots are those at the top of the trough. Lesson learned.

Now, the funny part for you. I’m 6’8″ in the land of the little people, which got me more than one funny or cross look. This place was not built for people my size for sure. Now, it was allot like being at home, I shaved, brushed my teeth, washed my hair, bathed, then rinsed off. I need to mention the water had one temperature, freaking scalding hot. About midway through getting clean a very, very, old man, my guess was he was well over 100 years old, sat next to me. Standing to the rear of him was a young girl, I figured about 16 or 17, completely nude as well, began washing the old man. First thing I noticed is he took out his teeth and handed them to her to clean, which she did with what looked like Lava soap and a brush one would scrub floors with. I’ll admit, she had my attention. I think more so because we were on the all male side of the hot bath so she was quite an unexpected surprise. Perhaps she could see the confusion in my face because she squatted down next to me and began to talk, in great English I might add. She explained she was the great, great grand-daughter of this man, and it was tradition for the youngest to assist the eldest in daily tasks. She also explained that girls up to the age of 19 can assist on the male side and boys up to the age of 13 can assist on the female side. Interesting tidbit of information to say the least.

Nobody, and when I say nobody I mean nobody, paid her any attention whatsoever, except for me it would seem. More out of curiosity than anything really. Here I had only been in Japan for just a few weeks and I already have seen my first live nude Japanese female. I know what you are thinking, and yes she was young, but it was hard not to stare. I got up to go to the first sitting pool which was so hot I sat on the edge with only my legs in it at first, which were turning bright red as I sat there. The girl walked over her grand father to pool I was trying to get the courage to get into and helped him straight in up to his neck. Damn. She then scampered off to do her cleaning. When I forced myself down into the water, which took my breath away, I couldn’t help but to notice she was back. She entered the pool right at my eye level and tended to him. She sat with the old man for a while. I had seen others get out and move to the next pool, so I followed suit.

Now, I only thought the first sitting pool was hot, this one had it topped by at least 500 degrees, but I was able to slither right in because I was already cooking. The men sat in this one for a short period and then moved on. Like a lost puppy I followed them to the next pool. There should have been a sign on this pool, something that reads “Caution. Water Will Melt The Skin From Your Bones. Caution.”, but there was no warning for this Gaijin (外人) (look it up, it was the nickname the Japanese called the servicemen) and I found out the hard way. But, damn, did it feel good after the shock went away. One didn’t sit in this one very long at all. Then, they head to the steam room, a quaint, small room that had a 2 minute egg timer because it was so damn hot. So, in and out it was. I couldn’t breathe, my lungs were on fire, and I wanted to just die right there. Yea, clean up in the sauna please. When I exited the sauna I was basically grabbed by the arm to stop me from walking, I was shown to watch the man in front of me who was in a small “tank” which he was squatted in up over his head in the water. He was out and I was in. One fluid motion until the water covered my head, it took my breath away because it was a temperature just above freezing. Out of there just as fast as I went in. A quick wash off and I was on my way out.

After getting dressed I felt drained of all of my energy and will to live. I don’t think I have ever been that relaxed in my entire life. When I left the dressing room I was guided over to some tables where I was sat down. Soon after I was brought a cup of warm herbal tea and a bowl of some of the blandest noodle soup I have ever tasted. Come to find out, it was ginseng root soup and they weren’t noodles after all. It was to recharge a person, to put a little wang back in your step before you left. It was relaxing and it does bring the energy back. Come to find out it is all included in the price of admission. So far, I’m liking the onsen just behind my house. It was one hell of an experience and became my daily bad habit. I probably went there almost every single day for close to the five years I was there. When I went back home after my first time I really wanted to talk to my wife about it, but she didn’t show an interest or really care because she wasn’t ever going to try it out for herself.

About a year after my daughter was born my parents came to Japan to visit as their big summer trip. This part of the story I have been forbidden to ever tell my mother because, in my dad’s opinion (because he is old-fashioned), he saw things that he should feel guilty for seeing. Anyway, going to the onsen became my everyday, twice a day, habit because everyday that tiny postage stamp size bath tub got smaller and smaller. My dad made the comment that he wished to retire for the evening and was going to get washed up before bed. The look of horror on his face will remain forever priceless when he entered the bathroom and just as fast came out asking where the shower or tub were. So, I explained to him what I knew, well, not everything, but I explained how things were here. You see, he is 6’4″ @ about 265lbs, which makes it hard for him to squeeze into anything. After a brief discussion, we collected our things to head to the hot bath. I gave him one instruction, which was to just follow my lead and follow what I do so he doesn’t embarrass me.

We made the walk across the parking lot, it was fairly warm this time of year so the walk was pretty leisurely to say the least. We went through the “tourist” mode where I had to explain everything in the lobby to him. After 1 1/2 years I have really gotten good at reading Japanese and knew a handful of phrases to always get me on my way. After getting our tokens we entered the area to change out of our street clothes to get ready. Shortly after sitting down to begin the washing of ourselves I get a nudge on my arm from my dad. When I looked over to him he was 12 different shades of red with embarrassment and was holding his wash cloth over his privates. He was showing me that there were young females in the room so I had to go through the ordeal of explaining the traditions and protocols here. He played it off but I could see he was pretty bothered about it all. I remember my first time and after that it became common place, even routine enough where one doesn’t notice it as standing out any longer. We continued with what my routine had become, it really gets shortened to about a 30 minute trip as time moves on because one gets in and gets out. We did sit and have the tea and soup when we were done, sitting there in silence except for one simple command, “never speak of any of this to my mother, not even at her grave”. Unfortunately for my dad, this was his first and last trip to any of the hot bathes in Japan, he decided he could and would make do with the facilities we offered at the house.

Over the years I frequented a large sampling of onsen in my extended local area, my absolute personal favorite was a resort on the edge of town that was very cool. I didn’t go there too much, 3 or 4 times, because it was a fair drive and much more expensive. I was wondering how to explain the one at the resort because it was out of this world. Minecraft players or those familiar with Minecraft will understand better. Imagine taking the elevator down, getting of said elevator, and entering through some very large opaque glass doors. The changing area looked like all the other ones I had seen, pretty basic, but going into the hot bath area was incredible. Imagine opening a door and being in a very dense forest, looking up you see the tops of the trees and the stars in the sky. This place looked like being outdoors the way it was done up, it looked so real it made you touch the fake trees and the walls just to remind yourself you were a few stories underground. It’s just hard to explain I guess, but it throws all your senses for a loop with the big waterfalls and whatnot.

My (ex)wife never went to an onsen the entire time we were living in Japan, however, my daughter went with me on occasion once she started toddling. I learned allot while I was in Japan, beyond the language difference, beyond the cultural differences, and beyond the cuisine differences. Tradition is complex and deep-rooted, everything, and I mean everything when I say everything, had a meaning of some sort. The people I interacted with where I lived locally became to know me all to well. I would get invited to a stranger’s house a few doors down for snacks or people would bring local cuisine or gifts to my house as gestures of our “friendship”. Fortunately for me, I chose to immerse myself in the culture and get to know as much as I could. The hot baths were just the tip of what I would take away from Japan when I left. Ask my (ex)wife and she would only be able to tell you the tourist places we went to go visit. Its sad, but very true, but then again, she never got over being roughly 6600 miles from her mother the entire time we were there.

So, this was interesting and fun for me. It was nice to take a trip back in time to a place I really enjoyed living on the northern tip of Japan. I look forward to writing more of these specific subject related posts about living in Japan. Who knows, maybe I will expand and just write about everywhere I have been. Well, I can’t write about “everywhere” I have been, but I can give some insight about place x and place y without giving away the actual place or why I was there. Everywhere I traveled in the world was a “challenge” in its own special way. Until we meet again, thank y’all for taking the time to read a little bit about my life in Japan.

Onsen, as defined by Wikipedia:

  • Onsen (温泉?) is a term for hot springs in the Japanese language, though the term is often used to describe the bathing facilities and inns around the hot springs. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered along its length and breadth. Onsen were traditionally used as public bathing places and today play a central role in directing Japanese domestic tourism. Onsen come in many types and shapes, including outdoor (露天風呂 or 野天風呂, roten-buro or noten-buro?) and indoor baths. Baths may be either public run by a municipality or private (内湯, uchiyu?) often run as part of a hotel, ryokan or bed and breakfast (民宿, minshuku?). Onsen are a central feature of Japanese tourism often found out in the countryside but there are a number of popular establishments still found within major cities. They are a major tourist attraction drawing Japanese couples, families or company groups who want to get away from the hectic life of the city to relax. Japanese often talk of the virtues of “naked communion” (裸の付き合い, hadaka no tsukiai?)[1] for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed homey atmosphere of a ryokan with an attached onsen. Japanese television channels often feature special programs about local onsens. The presence of an onsen is often indicated on signs and maps by the symbol ♨ or the kanji, 湯 (yu, meaning “hot water”). Sometimes the simpler hiragana character ゆ (yu) is used, to be understandable to younger children. Traditionally, onsen were located outdoors, although a large number of inns have now built indoor bathing facilities as well. Onsen by definition use naturally hot water from geothermally heated springs. Onsen should be differentiated from sentō, indoor public bath houses where the baths are filled with heated tap water. The legal definition of an onsen includes that its water must contain at least one of 19 designated chemical elements, including radon and metabolic acid and be 25 °C or warmer before being reheated. Stratifications exist for waters of different temperatures. Major onsen resort hotels often feature a wide variety of themed spa baths and artificial waterfalls in the bathing area utaseyu (打たせ湯?). Onsen water is believed to have healing powers derived from its mineral content. A particular onsen may feature several different baths, each with water with a different mineral composition. The outdoor bath tubs are most often made from Japanese cypress, marble or granite, while indoor tubs may be made with tile, acrylic glass or stainless steel. Different onsen also boast about their different waters or mineral compositions, plus what healing properties these may contain. Other services like massages may be offered. People often travel to onsen with work colleagues, friends, couples or their families.

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